$100M Station in Central Arkansas Proposed Along Planned Wind Highway

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Apr. 28, 2014 12:00 am  

A $2 billion, 750-mile transmission line project has been altered so that Arkansans will benefit from the wind energy highway that will be built through the state in coming years.

The project, called the Plains & Eastern Clean Line, won’t break ground until 2016, but the company behind it — Clean Line Energy Partners — announced this month that it would build a $100 million convertor station along the line’s route, somewhere in central Arkansas.

The station will allow local utilities to benefit from the power traveling along the lines and potentially allow Clean Line to become a utility in Arkansas.

Clean Line is a private transmission company in Houston. It develops projects that connect renewable generation points between states.

The Plains & Eastern project is one of five Clean Line transmission projects underway in the country, and the only one that passes through Arkansas. It has been in the works for the past half-decade and will build a transmission line intended to connect the Midwest’s wind resources to Arkansas and other states in the South with less potential to generate wind. About 3,500 megawatts of power in Oklahoma would become available to these states.

“In western Oklahoma, specifically in the Oklahoma panhandle, there’s a huge wind resource,” said Michael Skelly, president of Clean Line. “You can generate wind power and electricity at a very low cost. It’s typical to develop more projects in western Oklahoma without expanding the grid. At the same time, you have customers in Arkansas and the Southeast who are buying wind energy today and would like to buy more of it.”

Those customers could include Arkansas’ utility cooperatives, for example. The hugely expensive job makes sense for Clean Line, Skelly said, because the company gets paid for providing transport to transmission operators and other energy companies throughout its network. The new line would mean many new customers for the company.

“What our project will do is help expand that market and connect the resources with customers in those states,” Skelly said.

But as initially planned, the project would have had little effect on Arkansans beyond creating some jobs through the construction period. The line traveled from Oklahoma east through Arkansas, but Clean Line’s electricity wouldn’t have stopped in Arkansas along the way.

This was the basis of the Arkansas Public Service Commission’s 2011 denial of Clean Line’s attempt to be recognized as a utility in the state. Becoming a utility would have meant the company could have used eminent domain in creating the route for its new lines.

However, that changed when Skelly announced the convertor station at this month’s Little Rock Sustainability Summit at the Clinton Presidential Library. The company has a similar convertor station in the middle of the Oklahoma panhandle, where much of its wind power is coming from, and where the company was approved to be a utility.

“It looks like a substation, but it’s actually a fairly highly specialized facility which takes our electricity, which is direct current, and converts it to alternating current,” Skelly said.



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